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Ontario Hansard - 03-December2003

MEMBERS' STATEMENTS

TAXPAYER DAY


Mr Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): I rise today to inform the House of plans for a Taxpayer Day, right here at Queen's Park. Taxpayer Day will be next Wednesday, December 10. Taxpayer Day will allow Ontario taxpayers to voice their concern regarding Liberal tax hikes, tax hikes that Dalton McGuinty announced in Bill 2: a dizzying array of measures that make people in Ontario pay more taxes by cancelling the seniors' property tax rebate; eliminating planned income tax cuts for individuals; scrapping the tax break for parents who send their children to independent schools; jacking up tobacco taxes; and raising taxes on incorporated businesses, loggers, miners and farmers.

At $2.8 billion a year in increased tax revenue, this law is now rightfully known as the largest single-day tax hike in Ontario's history bill. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Dalton McGuinty stood in front of all of us, on our television screens, chanting his misleading mantra over and over again: "I won't cut your taxes, but I won't raise them either"?

Either this bill is another massive broken promise or the Premier has a different understanding of what it means to raise taxes.

Anyone who'd like more information on Taxpayer Day can contact either myself or the member for Nepean-Carleton.


Hon James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism and Recreation): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I didn't want to interrupt the member when he was speaking, but I did hear the words "misleading mantra" in there. I always thought the word "misleading" was unacceptable in this House. I didn't want to interrupt you, though.

Mr Barrett: I withdraw that.

DIABETES


Mr Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot): I rise to talk about diabetes, a serious illness that will become the 21st century's next deadly epidemic. Today over 600,000 Ontario citizens have diabetes. Today it's the third-largest cause of death in the province. Today, the chronic complications associated with diabetes account for 32% of heart attacks, 51% of new dialysis patients, 70% of amputations and 30% of strokes.

The Canadian Diabetes Association notes that "complications from diabetes can be prevented or delayed by aggressive management of the disease." But we must act soon to ease the human and economic toll of this disease. We must move to ensure that vulnerable Ontarians with diabetes have timely and appropriate access to the medicines and supplies they require through the Ontario drug benefit plan. We must insist on a reintroduction of regular physical education classes in our schools, as there is no better way to protect our children from eventual development of diabetes than ensuring that they become and remain physically active.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 16, the CDA will present an information breakfast session here at Queen's Park. I would urge all members of this House to come out and learn the risk factors and to hear from people who deal with this disease every single day.

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NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT


Mr Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): The decision by the Liberal government to transfer responsibility for the Nutrient Management Act from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of the Environment is a slap in the face to farmers across Ontario. This arbitrary and wrong-headed decision was made behind closed doors, with the Minister of Agriculture obviously missing in action. This will justifiably alarm Ontario's farming community. But it's just the tip of the iceberg with a government that's Toronto-focused and lacks any strong spokespeople for rural Ontario.

The former Minister of Agriculture, Helen Johns, toured the province, consulting with thousands of farmers on the proposed act. One of the main fears farmers expressed was the possibility that implementation and compliance would fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment. Farmers believed, and with considerable justification born of past experience, the MOE would simply hire inspectors who would visit farms with legislation in hand, issuing compliance orders and/or laying changes. Minister Johns made a commitment that responsibility for the program would be retained by the Ministry of Agriculture. Now this Toronto-centric government has thrown that commitment on the manure pile.

Ontario's farmers have endured considerable hardship this year, especially with the far-reaching effects of mad cow. This rejection of their concerns shows a complete lack of understanding of the current challenges facing Ontario farm families.

The Conservative government understood the need for consultation and co-operation. On the other hand, the McGuinty government, without any consultation, has reversed this decision, threatening the future of thousands of farmers across this province.

VISITOR


Ms Judy Marsales (Hamilton West): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I ask permission to welcome and acknowledge the president of the Hamilton realtors association, Dan Gies, who is in our gallery today.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): It's not a point of order, but we welcome him, anyhow.

MEAT INSPECTION


Mrs Maria Van Bommel (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex): I would like to impress upon the members of this assembly how important a proficient and credible meat inspection system is to the business of agriculture in this province. As producers of broiler chicken, my husband and I have worked many years and very hard to achieve a superior rating for the product that leaves our farm. We take pride in the product and in the high quality that we send to the processing industry. We don't want our collective years of hard work, market research and progress as farmers to be jeopardized by a lack of public confidence in the meat inspection system.

Ontario consumers have been very supportive of Ontario agriculture. We appreciate that support, but we also don't want to do anything to endanger that. From the farm gate to the plate, both farmers and consumers have a right to a science-based and accountable meat inspection system.

This week's announcement that we were going to hire more full-time meat inspectors is welcomed by Ontario farmers.

UKRAINIAN GENOCIDE


Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington): I rise to join with all members in the House to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33. As professor Orest Subtelny wrote, this genocide was to be for Ukrainians what the Holocaust was for Jews and the massacre of 1915 was for Armenians: a tragedy of unfathomable proportions that traumatized the nation, leaving it with deep social, psychological, political and demographic scars that Ukraine carries to this day.

Joseph Stalin himself said, "Nobody can deny that the total yield of grain in 1932 was larger than in 1931," and yet 8 million to 10 million Ukrainians died that year of a man-made genocide famine because the Communist state systematically confiscated most of its food for its use on its collective farms. This was done to subjugate the Ukrainian people. As one of Stalin's lieutenants said in 1933, "It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay." Those words, along with the Soviet system itself, are today in the dustbin of history.

On behalf of the entire Parliament of Ontario, I extend heartfelt condolences to the Ukrainian community in Ontario and Canada as well as in Ukraine on this sad occasion. May the memory of all the victims of Ukrainian genocide in Holodomor be eternal. Slava Ukraytni.

PUBLIC SAFETY


Mr Shafiq Qaadri (Etobicoke North): It was Oscar Wilde who, about 100 years ago, wrote that no man can escape from his past. So I was quite alarmed yesterday when I read the Provincial Auditor's report, because I think that particular statement has been brought vividly to light with the experiences of the Eves administration.

I'd like to highlight just three aspects of the health care system. At least 14% of Ontario's children don't receive the required vaccinations by age seven. These are serious problems covering the types of diseases that we as physicians had thought were things of the past; for example, diphtheria, polio, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella. Frankly, Botswana and Nicaragua have better records than the government of Ontario -- the previous administration.

Food-borne illnesses still remain a threat, as none of our public health units in this province have conducted the necessary inspections of all their food premises. I'm sad to report to you that eight boards do not even have a full-time medical officer of health.

The auditor also concluded that the previous administration has abrogated its entire responsibility for public safety, given, for example, the situation with West Nile and SARS.

I would like to commend the previous administration for being one of the few governments in the history of this province to simultaneously create a social deficit as well as a financial deficit. Time for change.

VISITORS


Mr Khalil Ramal (London-Fanshawe): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I have an announcement. Members of the Ontario Principals' Council are with us today to watch us during the session. I'd like to welcome them.

INTERNATIONAL DAY
OF DISABLED PERSONS


Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington): Today I rise on behalf of the 1.6 million persons with disabilities in Ontario --

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): Order. You had your time in members' statements unless you seek unanimous consent on this.

Mr Jackson: Mr Speaker, do I have unanimous consent to have a second statement?

The Speaker: Do we have the unanimous consent of the House? Agreed.

Mr Jackson: Today I rise on behalf of the 1.6 million persons with disabilities in Ontario to celebrate the International Day of the Disabled. It was my privilege two years ago, as minister, to develop and pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Canada's most comprehensive disability legislation.

I would like to acknowledge in the House today Jeff Adams, chair of Ontario's Accessibility Advisory Council. The contributions Jeff and many others have made in improving our understanding of accessibility issues were the inspiration in developing this leading legislation.

We have a responsibility to ensure all citizens have the right to full citizenship, to fully enjoy and participate in the life of their community. As a result of the ODA, municipalities have been working with their local accessibility committees.

In August, my community of Burlington launched its first new fleet of 40-foot low-floor buses, providing accessible transit to the frail, elderly and ambulatory disabled. They invested over $1.5 million of provincial funding through the Ontario transit renewal program.

More municipalities can learn from this. Each year, the Ontario transit renewal program provides over $100 million to municipalities to replace aging buses. Moving forward, this money should be conditional on the purchase of new, accessible buses.

Many of us will be able to leave this Legislature today without giving a thought to how easy it is for us. There must come a day when access -- here and everywhere in the province -- is just as easy for persons with disabilities.

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PUBLIC SAFETY


Mr Jeff Leal (Peterborough): Yesterday's auditor's report is more proof that the Tories were failing to protect the people of Ontario. Not only did the previous government leave us with a $5.6-billion deficit, but they also left the province with a serious public safety deficit that will take years to restore. Thousands of criminal cases run the risk of being thrown out of the courts because of a serious backlog. They left the province vulnerable to diseases like West Nile and SARS. There were compliance problems with 22 hazardous waste facilities inspected. Even worse, unapproved handling of treatment of waste happened at 95% of these facilities. After all the lessons learned from the Walkerton tragedy, the Tories still did not adequately inspect the province's water. In fact, more than a quarter of waterworks didn't properly inspect for the same E coli that caused the Walkerton disaster.

What was the Tory priority? Handing out billions of dollars to Ontario's largest corporations and private schools. They had their staff spend all their time inspecting adult videotapes instead of water and food. The Tories' fiscal management is deplorable, but it's their blatant disregard for public safety that's their worst legacy. This damning indictment of the Tories only proves that they were never serious about protecting the people of Ontario. The Tories were only serious about helping themselves and their friends.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): The members only have 90 seconds to make a statement. As a matter of courtesy, could we hear those statements without any sort of heckling?

LIBERAL CAMPAIGN PROMISES


Mr Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): I rise in the House today to make a very special announcement. Since October 2003, the Dalton McGuinty promise-breakers club has recognized excuses, broken promises and tax hikes perpetuated by members of the new Liberal government. Up until now, official membership in this prestigious club was limited to Dalton McGuinty, Mr Duncan and Mr Sorbara. Today, I am pleased to announce that we're expanding the Dalton McGuinty promise-breakers club to include Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky.

Minister Dombrowsky has earned this special distinction by using her ministerial position to break a promise to the people in the very riding that she represents, Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington. During the recent election campaign, Mrs Dombrowsky and honorary club president Dalton McGuinty promised the residents of Napanee that they would drop the appeal on broadening the terms of reference in the environmental assessment of the proposed Richmond landfill.

Here's where it gets interesting: The appeal was withdrawn by Mrs Dombrowsky and her ministry, but days later it was re-entered by Michael Bryant and the Ministry of the Attorney General. How's that for creative promise-breaking? Mrs Dombrowsky thinks she can fool her constituents and hide this one under Michael Bryant's carpet at the Ministry of the Attorney General.

We've got news for you, Mrs Dombrowsky: Your constituents are too smart to fall for that one. Pawning off your promise only to be broken by another member of your own team still constitutes a personal broken promise. Congratulations and welcome to the club, Minister Dombrowsky.

FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE


Ms Shelley Martel (Nickel Belt): In his report yesterday, the Provincial Auditor used some of the strongest language ever to describe the ongoing failures of the Family Responsibility Office. He says that without immediate action the FRO "is in grave danger of failing to meet its mandated responsibilities."

The failings are numerous. Arrears owing to families now total $1.3 billion, an 8% increase since the last audit in 1999. The number of case workers has been cut by 20% but the number of cases has increased from 126,000 to 180,000. There's an average seven-month delay between a case falling into arrears and the start of enforcement. Enforcement usually only occurs because an advocate for the recipient calls to demand action. Clients have to call repeatedly to get through to the office, and many never do. Twenty-three thousand recipients who are owed over $200 million in total are on social assistance because they can't get the money that they and their children are legally owed. The computer system is antiquated and regularly crashes, causing even more chaos in this office.

This intolerable situation can't go on. The former government is to blame for this crisis because the FRO never recovered from the dumb decision made by the Conservatives to centralize the office in Downsview, to lay off 85% of the staff in one day and to consistently refuse to deal with the outdated technology.

The new government now has this crisis on its hands. You must take your obligation to recipients and their children seriously. We need more staff and new technology at the Family Responsibility Office, and we need it now. Moms and children should not have to wait, should not have to beg, to get the money they are legally owed.

DONALD DEACON


Hon James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism and Recreation): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I request unanimous consent to pay tribute to the late Donald Deacon, who was a member of this House. I think there is ordinarily five minutes assigned to this for each of the three parties if it gets unanimous consent.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): Do we have unanimous consent for five minutes for each party to pay their respects? Agreed.

Hon Mr Bradley: Very often I end up with the opportunity to pay tribute to people. I guess in many cases it's most appropriate, because I knew some of these people on a personal basis.

With Don Deacon, who passed away relatively recently, I did know Don. I did not serve in this Legislative Assembly with him, but I knew him to be an extremely good constituency person, first of all. All of us know that where we make our mark initially is with the people we represent, the people who vote for us. Don, first and foremost, was a person who was well known to his constituents, a person who worked hard on their behalf at a time when it was often the member's own prerogative and the member's own responsibility to take constituency problems directly to various ministries and various parts of government. Today we have constituency offices, and far more staff than we would have had in the days when Don Deacon was a member of this House. For that reason alone, individuals of that era deserve special consideration and special commendation.

He was also a particularly articulate individual who rose in the ranks of the Liberal caucus to the extent that he decided he would contest the leadership of the Liberal Party of Ontario at a time when the leader of the day had said that he was considering stepping aside, and ultimately said he was going to. That was Bob Nixon. Well, a contest took place. Don Deacon was a very strong contender in that contest and brought a lot of new ideas to the race, because he was a person with a lot of new ideas.

He was a person who brought a business perspective to his responsibilities as a member of this House as well. He was named the Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year on Prince Edward Island when he was in Prince Edward Island. So if you look at his total contribution to society, not only as a member of this Legislature but as a member of our society, Don contributed an awful lot.

I know that his family was very proud of him. We who knew Don noted his passing with a good deal of sadness. When it happened, I know that those who had contested the leadership with him were people who would have recalled so many fond memories about him. He had a great sense of humour, which he shared with others in the Legislative Assembly and certainly within the Liberal caucus. His sobering second thought on many of the ideas that were brought forward was very much appreciated as well. As I say, as a person involved in the field of business, he knew when proposals were put forward that one of the tests that he would put those proposals to would be the test of how it would affect the business of Ontario or of his own community. So Don understood that extremely well.

Sometimes, if we have not served with these individuals, we do not know of the contribution they make. Certainly the people of York Centre will remember for many years to come the contribution that Don Deacon made.

Another area where he was particularly strong was in legislative committees. We lament today from time to time that our legislative committees don't seem to mean as much as they once did. All of us have expressed that concern at some time or other, and it's something all of us will want to address. But Don Deacon knew the value of those legislative committees. He knew that he could have an impact on government legislation even as a member of the opposition, that he could question people coming before committees in such a manner as to be able to bring out the necessary points to change legislation or to change government policy.

All of us certainly will miss him and will remember his contribution not only to the people of his riding but to the people of the province of Ontario. I particularly want to say, on behalf of the members of the Liberal caucus and the government, that we extend to the family our, in this case belated, condolences, but this is one of the first opportunities we have to pay tribute to those who have made a contribution to this House.

The name Don Deacon will be remembered for many, many years to come to the people of the county of York and the constituency of York Centre, but also to those who served with him and those who were part of the Liberal Party which he was part of at that particular time. Our province is a better place because of the contribution that Don Deacon has made, and all of us will miss him greatly.

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Mrs Julia Munro (York North): I rise today to remember the accomplishments of a very distinguished and respected former member of this House on behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus.

Donald MacKay Deacon, born in Toronto in 1920, was elected as a Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature for York Centre, serving from 1968 to 1974, during which time he rose to become deputy leader of the opposition.

Mr Deacon married Florence Campbell in 1947, and they had six children. He served in Europe during World War II with the Royal Canadian Artillery, reaching the rank of major. He was a forward observation officer. This job required him to get as close as possible to sight the enemy guns, a task he performed during the liberation of Europe, from Normandy to the Netherlands. He was awarded the Military Cross for his service and said that his military service was what motivated his efforts in volunteer organizations and public service.

After the war, Mr Deacon was elected councillor and then deputy reeve of the old township of Markham.

Donald Deacon is remembered as one of the founders of the Markham Stouffville Hospital. He used his experience and knowledge to work with the Ministry of Health to build the hospital. Markham Mayor, and former MPP, Don Cousens remembers that it was Mr Deacon who was instrumental in convincing local philanthropist Art Latcham to donate land for the hospital. He worked hard with local residents such as Lachlan Cattanachan and Len Mason to see that the hospital was built.

His business career in the financial sector saw him serve as chair of F.H. Deacon Hodgson Inc. He was president of the Canadian Club in 1968-69.

His dedication to the arts is honoured in the Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery in Unionville, where exhibition rooms are named for Donald Deacon and his wife, Florence.

His daughter became a teacher in the province of Prince Edward Island in 1972, a son moved there in 1973 and the Deacons eventually moved there full-time in 1981.

After moving to Prince Edward Island, he continued his busy career of public service. He became president of the PEI Red Cross and a member of the Red Cross national board of governors. From 1982 to 1987 he served on the board of Mount Allison University, and he was vice-chair of the PEI United Way campaign in 1982. He also served as president of the PEI Royal Commonwealth Society.

Mr Deacon was a highly regarded scouter, eventually becoming national commissioner of Scouts Canada from 1982 to 1987, and was founding co-chair of the national Katimavik youth program, where he served between 1977 and 1980.

Mr Deacon was a committed environmentalist, which spurred him on to become a director of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation. He is considered by many to be the reason the Trans Canada Trail exists today. By examples elsewhere, Donald Deacon saw the opportunity to convert abandoned rail lines into trails, not only for Prince Edward Island but for all of Canada. He worked tirelessly for the rest of his life pursuing this cause.

Donald Deacon came from one of the leading families in Unionville and Markham. I met him several times years ago, before he became an MPP, when I lived in Unionville. Don Cousens recalls that one of the first people he spoke to when he thought about seeking nomination in the riding of Markham was Donald Deacon.

Donald Deacon was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1987 and a member of the Order of Prince Edward Island in March of last year. He was also named Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year for PEI.

As you can see, Mr Deacon served the people of Ontario with distinction and integrity both in and out of the Legislature. When he moved to PEI later in life, he began a second career, with accomplishments equal to those in Ontario. He contributed greatly to making two provinces better places to live for their citizens. On behalf of our caucus, our condolences go to the Deacon family.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Toronto-Danforth): It is my honour to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party today and pay tribute to Donald Deacon, who is somebody that I didn't know. It's always hard, of course, to do justice when you rise and speak about a person who served this place with distinction and at the same time somebody whom you never had the opportunity to meet.

I took the time to do some research on Mr Deacon, and I was incredibly impressed by his record, not only his record of service to the people of Ontario but indeed his entire life.

Mr Deacon died at age 83. After being elected as a Liberal to the Ontario Legislature, he served from 1968 to 1974. He served as the deputy leader of the opposition. I don't know if people here are aware, but when you look up background about previous members, you find out very interesting things about them. I read in this article that Mr Deacon became famous for ordering ready-made frozen dinners and serving them to citizens' meetings he organized that often included people from opposite sides of the issues or in a dispute. He served those dinners to everybody and got everybody to sit down and talk. I was very impressed by that. I think that perhaps all of us in this Legislature today should go and buy some frozen dinners and put them on a table and sit down and talk.

I was impressed by some of the things that I found out about Mr Deacon. He was known as a man of vision and determination. Again, I'm not sure if people are aware that Mr Deacon -- this is an article from May 15, 1973 -- became the first man to enter the race to succeed Robert Nixon as the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. He took that on, and one of the things that he said when he announced that he would be running for the leadership was that a Deacon government would look after "`the forgotten people ... the under-represented and the over-taxed.'

"He said the Tories had forgotten about the secretaries, the clerks, the waiters, the junior executives, white collar workers and unionized blue collar workers."

Clearly, during Mr Deacon's service here for the people of Ontario, he stood up for the underprivileged in this province. I am proud to have the opportunity to remind people in this House today of the service that he contributed to the people of Ontario.

In 1972, his daughter took up teaching in PEI. A son came to the island in 1973, and his first grandchild was born there in PEI. The Deacons liked, of course, to visit their children and their grandchildren in PEI. They visited PEI a lot and bought a house in 1978. Over a number of years, they fixed it up and then in 1981 they moved there permanently.

As has been pointed out by previous speakers, Mr Deacon's work did not stop. He did not retire in PEI; he continued to get involved in many public service opportunities in PEI.

I want, on behalf of New Democrats, to send our condolences to the wife, the children and grandchildren, and the friends of Mr Deacon. We certainly wish them all the best and send our condolences to the family.


The Speaker: Could I just say that the tributes paid by all parties on behalf of the late Donald Deacon will be made available to his family.

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INTERNATIONAL DAY
OF DISABLED PERSONS


Hon Marie Bountrogianni (Minister of Children's Services, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I believe we have unanimous consent in the House for each party of the House to speak for up to five minutes in recognition of the International Day of Disabled Persons.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): Do we have unanimous consent? Agreed.

Hon Mrs Bountrogianni: Mr Speaker, honourable members, it is my great pleasure to rise today in recognition of the International Day of Disabled Persons. I would like to thank the member for Burlington for his remarks and his concern about accessibility.

This day, first designated by the United Nations in 1992, is an excellent opportunity for all of us to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions people with disabilities have made to the province of Ontario. In Ontario there are more than 1.5 million people with disabilities. As the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I am honoured to have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of an effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act and working with key organizations to bring about meaningful change. This is the commitment that we made in the throne speech November 20, and it is one that we intend to move on quickly. The intent of our government is to make the implementation of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the ODA, more effective and more responsive to the needs of people with disabilities.

Early stakeholder input will play an important role in identifying areas of the ODA that need to be strengthened or changed. It will allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers that still affect the daily lives of people with disabilities, their families, and all of us.

The UN theme for 2003 is "A Voice of Our Own." Our government will be consulting with and listening to people with disabilities. We want to know about their experiences and we want to have their input. It is critical that we account for the full scope of disabilities and the impact of barriers on daily life in Ontario.

Dr Kuldip Kular, my parliamentary assistant from Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale, and I have scheduled a series of fully accessible consultation meetings with people with disabilities and a diverse range of key stakeholders. The consultations begin in January. This is our opportunity to gather valuable insights and to move forward in strengthening the ODA. I look forward to working with my Accessibility Advisory Council and having the members provide me with feedback on the implementation of the ODA, and I would like to welcome Jeff Adams, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario. I would like to add, with what I am sure is shared embarrassment, that we were to meet at the Whitney Block, and Mr Adams had difficulty accessing the Whitney Block. We're going to address that, Mr Adams.

The McGuinty government is committed to a province where all people have a chance to participate fully and to achieve their potential in all aspects of life. We can all make a contribution; we can all make Ontario a place where everyone can build a future and realize their dreams. Mr Speaker, honourable members, please use the International Day of Disabled Persons, and every day, as an opportunity to raise awareness about the benefits of full accessibility and inclusion.

I'd like to thank Sergio Vazquez and B.J. Shrestha for enabling me to finish my statement in American Sign Language. Full accessibility benefits us all.


Mr Ted Arnott (Waterloo-Wellington): I want to thank the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who is also the Minister of Children's Services, for her statement today. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to rise in this House as opposition critic for both of her ministries, so I wish to begin by wishing her well as she undertakes these important responsibilities within the government. I also need to let the minister know that I intend to provide constructive advice to her, sometimes in the House, sometimes other ways, and to the government when possible, and provide criticism when necessary and appropriate.

The International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed by the United Nations, as was said, in 1992 to promote understanding about disability issues and increase awareness of the gains to be derived from integrating disabled persons into all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life. I'm certain that I speak for all members of this House when I say that we all support these goals. I also believe that we need to support these goals by thinking of disabled people first and foremost in terms of the remarkable things they can do and contribute. We need to recognize their extraordinary talents, always be improving our society, our systems and all programs and services of the government to ensure that all Ontarians have opportunities to contribute to the greater good.

I commend the member for Burlington, who has spoken in this House today and provided a thoughtful idea to enhance access for disabled people in the public transit system. He also served as Minister of Citizenship in the previous government, which brought forward the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That act paved the way for the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario and entrenched in law the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

I too wish recognize Mr Jeff Adams, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario, who is with us in the Speaker's gallery up above.

In the throne speech the government made reference to the need to do more to support Ontarians with disabilities, and I'll quote from the speech: "Your new government will work with Ontarians with disabilities on meaningful legislation that will allow them to fully participate in building a stronger province." While this statement is laudable in a general sense, this commitment has no time frame, no specifics, no way of measuring results, no reference to the involvement of any MPPs in the process, save and except the minister and her parliamentary assistant, I guess, and no plan for implementation. In short, it is nothing more than a motherhood statement which is intended to appease the disabled community for the time being, while little concrete action is likely to be taken in the coming months.

I want to offer the minister a constructive suggestion. She should announce today that the government will support the appointment of a select committee of MPPs on supporting disabled persons. This select committee of MPPs could be charged with the responsibility of reviewing the legislation and the programs that we have, measuring what works and what doesn't, and advising the government on what needs to be done to move toward full participation for disabled persons in Ontario and the goals outlined by the UN. This committee would allow for all three political parties in this House, including the New Democrats, to participate in a meaningful dialogue with disabled persons and participate in a renewed effort to support their needs.

I commend this idea to the government and encourage their consideration.


Ms Shelley Martel (Nickel Belt): It's a pleasure for me, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, to make some statements today on the International Day of Disabled Persons.

I want to begin where the minister left off, and that is to point out that her government indeed has made a very specific commitment to strengthen the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I'm hope it's one of the first pieces of legislation that comes before this House when we sit again in the spring session.

I have a copy of a letter that was written by her leader, now the Premier, to David Lepofsky. Members will recall that David Lepofsky is the chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The letter is dated October 27, 1998. He says very clearly:

"As you know, I have personally called many times for Mike Harris to follow through on his campaign promise to introduce and pass such an act. Having heard from my caucus colleagues who joined you at your meetings across the province, it is clear that Ontarians agree this legislation is important and long overdue.

"If Mike Harris fails to live up to his commitment, a Liberal government will act. We will pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act."

Those of us who were here before know very clearly that the act that was eventually passed doesn't have any teeth, doesn't have any strength, needs very significant amendments if it is to work on behalf of Ontarians with disabilities. I read into the record today this letter because I want to reinforce what the commitment of the now Premier is, and to ensure that the minister, her staff and her colleagues will move forward on what is a very important issue.

Let me make some other concrete suggestions about what else might be done if we are truly to remove barriers that are facing Ontarians with disabilities and to ensure that they are able to contribute to both the economic and social life of Ontario. The first thing that should be done in this Legislature is to pass a bill so that we index ODSP payments to inflation and ensure that there is an annual increase in ODSP benefits. Members will know, because we have been lobbied very frequently, that it has been 10 years since those who live on ODSP pensions have received an increase. There is something dreadfully wrong about a province that is as rich as Ontario is where so many people live in such poverty. It's the same with the minimum wage.

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My colleague Tony Martin introduced a private member's bill on two occasions in this Legislature which would have indexed ODSP benefits to the rate of inflation, so that people would see an annual increase. It was a shame that on those occasions we could not get the government's support to get it to committee and to get something done. We had a former Minister of Community, Family and Social Services who promised that people on disability benefits would see an increase -- nothing happened. If this new government were truly committed to disabled persons, they would bring that bill in, we would deal with it promptly and we would ensure that some of the people who have the lowest incomes in this province -- the disabled -- finally see an increase in their pensions.

Secondly, we should audit and catalogue all programs and services for people with disabilities and create a single coordinating body for easy access to programs and information. We need to bolster the funding that we have for home care so that both seniors and the disabled can remain in their own homes and not be forced into long-term-care institutions, which are much costlier for the system and decrease the dignity of those people. We know that so many people can remain in their own homes. The problem under the previous government was that they continued to cut funding for home care so that people didn't have the choice to remain in their own homes. Your government has to reverse that trend.

We need to assess special-needs children promptly and support them in the public school system. We know there are 37,000 children who are on a waiting list for special needs in the Ontario school system now. Those are children who, with a small bit of support, would be able to participate fully in the education system. We need an investment. It was part of your election promise in the education platform. We need to get rid of those waiting lists for special ed.

We need to introduce a charter of rights for persons with disabilities that will contain very specific commitments for accessible public transit and accessible and affordable public housing. We should be dedicating a portion of transit funding to fully accessible transit, and we should make sure that a portion of that is etched in legislation, particularly in rural areas.

We need to change funding for post-secondary students to recognize that many of these students who are disabled will take longer to complete their post-secondary education. Grant funding should be in place to allow them to do that.

In conclusion, I say to the minister that I've offered a number of concrete suggestions. I hope you will take them into account on this important day.

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